GAME REVIEW – The Secret Of Monkey Island: Special Edition

By Marty Mulrooney

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Released last year at the same time at Telltale’s new Tales Of Monkey Island, The Secret Of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a remake by LucasArts of  the adventure game where it all began, in beautiful, fully orchestrated and fully voiced high definition. It is available on PC, Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and iPhone/iPod touch.

I am ashamed to admit that I let Tales Of Monkey Island’s coverage on AMO swallow up any coverage of this remake upon release: between my reviews of the new games and my numerous interviews with Guybrush Threepwood voice actor Dominic Armato, I had very little time to replay a game that I had already completed countless times.

More fool me. I recently decided to play the Special Edition in its entirety, so that I could be better prepared for my upcoming review of the Special Edition of LeChuck’s Revenge. Playing The Secret Of Monkey Island: Special Edition once more, I fell in love with Monkey Island (TM) all over again.

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For those few who have not played the original game, you take control of Guybrush Threepwood, a young man with dreams of becoming a mighty pirate. Arriving on the island of Mêlée, Guybrush meets the beautiful governor Elaine Marley and learns of the fearsome ghost pirate LeChuck, who has underhand plans to make Elaine his bride.  

Along the way, players will point and click in a traditional style, collecting objects, interacting with the various environments and chatting to a wide array of characters. There is a comedic tone to the proceedings that is still very strong even today due to the excellent script. It’s a classic.

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Wonderfully, a click of ‘F10’ on the keyboard switches the game between how it used to look with MIDI sound, and the updated Special Edition with full voicework and a real instrumental soundtrack. It is a feature that never gets old and I often found myself switching back and forth to remember just how much the original has dated graphically and musically.

However, the updated content could also prove controversial: some backgrounds are 1:1 updates and look great, whereas others have taken artistic licence and changed the scene quite drastically. A perfect example is shown above: the original dock looked far more simplistic 20 years ago, with the moon a mere dot on the horizon. This is why the switching feature is such a double-edged sword of course: it is almost inviting fans to pour over each screen in painstaking detail and weigh up whether justice has been done.

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Another example is LeChuck: decidedly blue in the original, yet updated in the Special Edition to wear his now standard red overcoat. I eventually decided to stop switching back and forth so much: it is better to just focus on the new content and treat is as a new game. The original hasn’t suddenly disappeared after all, and the new graphical updates are great. Water now flows and shimmers and LecChuck leaves a ghostly outline wherever he goes.

Besides, switching to classic mode turns off the new voice work (which is a disappointment) to remain faithful to the original text only presentation. The voice acting hits its mark 99% of the time too: Dominic Armato as Guybrush Threepwood is obviously having the time of his life speaking these long silent lines. Alexandra Boyd as Elaine is great as always but doesn’t have much to say (players forget how limited Elaine’s role was in the original) and it is as always an aural delight to hear Earl Boen once more as LeChuck. Supporting characters are hit and miss, but bringing back the voice of Murray from Curse Of Monkey Island to narrate is a stroke of genius.

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Sadly, playing the Special Edition makes the artwork cover the entire screen, meaning the interaction verbs and inventory items (previously at the bottom of the screen) now need to be brought up with a press of ‘Ctrl’ and ‘Alt’ respectively. (Of course, this input method is best suited to the PS3 and Xbox versions). The result can often feel slightly clunky: we have gone from only needing one mouse button to getting the keyboard involved as well.

This annoyance is somewhat offset by the excellent implementation of the new hints system, trigged by pressing ‘H’. Hints are given gradually, before telling you the exact puzzle solution with a huge arrow pointing at where you should go next. I didn’t need to use this feature much (I have already played this game to death) but new players or long time fans with hazy memories will certainly be thankful for it.

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Overall, The Secret Of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a great game. This is no surprise: the original game is still a great game 20 years later too. There are of course some niggles: the new character designs are arguably too stylised (what the hell is going on with Guybrush’s hair?!) and however you look at it, this is still only a 5 hour game, with updated controls that often get in the way of the original’s simplistic play style.

With a director’s commentary or classic mode featuring the new voicework, the replay value of this Special Edition could have been increased substantially. As it stands, it is still a great game but won’t take seasoned adventure gamers very long to complete. Still, I have heard some very exciting things about the new remake of Monkey Island 2 LeChuck’s Revenge: Special Edition, so hopefully that will address any issues mentioned here.

9 OUT OF 10

AMO will be reviewing the Special Edition of LeChuck’s Revenge next week so stay tuned! We’ll also be having another catch-up with Dominic Armato as well!

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